CUISINE UPPER CRUST

Breaking breads from around the world.

WHILE I was growing up, virtually every meal included a plate of lite bread. To you newcomers, lite bread means white bread -and a very soft version at that. As a child, the only two kinds I knew existed were Mrs. Baird’s and Sunbeam. So it is little wonder that as I became a figure-conscious teen-ager, I boldly announced that I didn’t like bread and eliminated it from my diet for years.

It was during a trip to Europe after my college graduation that I had my first taste of bread that offered some resistance to my bite. Being accustomed to something more akin to a sponge, this hard French bread wasn’t appealing at all -until I took the second bite. After a piece or two, I discovered that this bread that fought back was wonderful, especially with butter and jam for breakfast.

But I had to eat all the hard bread I wanted while I was in Europe, for after all, no such bread was available at home. Soon after my return, I began noticing restaurants that served bread crustier than the traditional cold, soft and sometimes stale brown ’n’ serve rolls. Then they added real butter instead of margarine pats. And suddenly, I found myself impatiently scouting the restaurant for the waiter with the bread basket, even before I opened the menu.

It’s apparent that Dallas owes the fine selection of breads it offers today to the influx of ethnic groups. Not to fault Mrs. Baird’s -for nothing is so enticing as the aroma of fresh-baked bread wafting down Mockingbird Lane from the bakery -but her loaves and rolls pale in comparison to a crusty baguette, rich Jewish egg bread or pungent pumpernickel.

Ethnic bakeries are rising in Dallas faster than you can say “active dry yeast.” Dal-lasites can choose breads from the British Isles, Scandanavia, a host of European countries, the Middle and Far East and, of course, Mexico.

To many people around the world, bread is more than something to hold a sandwich together: It is the staff of life. Certain breads are tied by years of tradition to religious ceremonies and holidays.

Throughout history, bread has been considered a staple in the human diet, so bakers often have been the victims of severe restrictions and punishments to keep them honest. At one time, Austrian bakers were fined and thrown in prison if their breads didn’t meet police regulations. Thirteenth-century London bakers had their prices fixed by Parliament at a total just over the cost of the essential ingredients. And 18th-century Turkish bakers were hanged if they were caught fixing prices.

The first breads in history were unleavened-flat, thin sheets that were hard on the outside and soft on the inside. It wasn’t until Egyptian civilization that a baker accidentally discovered the benefits of letting bread rise. It is said that a baker in a royal household set aside some dough while he went on with his duties; a few hours later, he discovered that the dough had expanded and soured. As a matter of economy, he mixed it with fresh dough. The result of the experiment pleased his royal diners, and leavened bread became the rule.

Originally, bread was judged by its whiteness. White bread was prepared only for royalty; it was the peasants who ate bread made from other grains. In 12th-century England, Parliament even legislated that royalty eat white bread, the middle class eat a bread made of part whole wheat and part white flour and the lower class eat bran bread. That’s interesting, in light of the superiority some people feel today when they eat only whole-grain breads.

All bread isn’t baked in the one-pound rectangular loaf and cut into half-inch slices like my childhood lite bread. French baguettes may measure as long as 22 inches, and Iranian barbary bread is also almost 2-feet long. Indian roti looks like a whole-wheat tortilla, while Mexican em-panadas look like small fried pies.

We located more than 30 ethnic bakeries in Dallas representing 14 different cultures. What they offer is authentic for their part of the world and is a cultural and taste education for those of us raised on plain white bread.

MEXICAN

It’s not surprising to find Mexican bakeries in Dallas; after all, Mexican is easily the most popular ethnic food in town. But with all the Mexican food you’ve eaten, have you ever been served bread other than tortillas? The reason you haven’t may be because most Mexican breads are sweet, beginning with a sweet dough and going on to the icing and sweet fruit fillings.

Chichen-Itza Yucatan’s Bakery, 2012 Greenville, 824-5400, makes the traditional pan nuevo (also known as conchas), a sweet roll topped with chocolate, vanilla or strawberry icing. It also makes pan fino (a cinnamon bread filled with pineapple, sweet potatoes or pumpkin) and campe-chana (crispy squares, only somewhat sweet, with sugar melted on top). In addition to the Mexican breads, Yucatan’s also makes French and Italian breads and Dumpernickel and whole-wheat hamburger buns. Some of the best-known restaurants in town, including The Grape and Cafe Pacific, buy their breads here.

Henry’s Bakery, 1804 McMillan, 824-0971, offers a large selection of breads, including pan nuevo and a variation called granadas, which means pomegranate (it’s a less sweet version shaped like a pomegranate). Henry’s campechana is filled with pineapple or apple. The bakery also offers empanadas (pumpkin-filled half-moon pies) and semita de anise (a 1-foot loaf mildly flavored with anise seed).

La Tapitia Bakery, 417 S.E. Eighth, Grand Prairie, 262-7095, makes empanadas and conchas.

Luna’s Tortilla Factory, 1615 McKin-ney, 747-2661, has regular weekday offerings; special breads are sold only on weekends. Empanadas and purros (empanadas with sweet-potato filling), pan nuevo, campechana and quernos (crescent sweet rolls) are sold every day. Weekend specials include alamares (pretzel-shaped pastries), chamucos (with a spice-cake flavor), mar-anitos (called “little pigs” because of their shape; they taste like gingerbread), roscas (a ring shape) and piedras (meaning “rocks”; they’re cinnamon flavored).

Stados Baking Company, 2918 N. Har-wood, 748-2610, makes conchas.

FRENCH

Of all the European breads, French must be the most popular and well-known, especially in Dallas.

According to Yan Narosov (who is part-owner of D’Azay Bakery), the baguettes that Dallas French bakeries make are shorter and fatter than true French baguettes. “Texas is Texas,” Narosov says. “I guess cowboys like things bigger.” The baker at La Francaise says that the bigger loaf looks more like what Americans are used to seeing in the grocery stores. But he also says that, even in France, the loaves will vary in size from one locale to another.

Although there is a great variety of French breads, they are all made from the same dough. The only thing that a baker will change is the shape; yet that one change will also alter the flavor of the bread in relation to the amount of a loafs crust. According to Michel Reynier of Reynier’s French Bakery, true French bread must be baked in a steam oven to create the characteristic crust.

You’ll need to know a few terms to select the proper bread. Baguettes are the extremely long, skinny loaves. A batard is shorter and rounder than a baguette, even though it weighs the same. Bouls are perfectly round; miches are shaped more like a football.

C’est Si Bon, 709 Elm, 742-7509, makes French bread loaves and small loaves for French dip sandwiches.

Croissant Royale, 14902 Preston Road, Pepper Square Shopping Center, 960-2666, makes four kinds of French bread plus pain Viennoise (a rich Viennese bread made with eggs, milk and butter and shaped into a long loaf with a crispy crust).

D’Azay, 6959 Arapaho at Hillcrest, 386-9886, makes French loaves as well as Jewish challah and Russian rye, which Yan Narosov, who is Russian, says is heavier and tastier than the grocery-store variety.

The French Baker, 110 Preston Royal Shopping Center, 369-2253, makes three kinds of French bread, egg bread, sourdough rye and onion rolls.

Gourmets-Bon Appetit, 2306 Myrtle Springs, 556-0191, offers nine shapes of French bread, including pretzel, epis (cut to resemble a picket fence which breaks into six individual rolls), miche (football-shaped) and boul (round with a design cut in the top). Other bread offerings include rye, wheat, egg, fromage (cheese turnovers made of three kinds of cheese) and brioche.

La Francaise, 65 Highland Park Shopping Village, 526-4110, and 105 White Rock North Shopping Center, 341-6365, makes three kinds of French bread plus rye and wheat.

Reymers French Bakery, 434 Spanish Village Shopping Center, Coit at Ara-paho, 387-9063, makes French, rye, wheat and white bread and rolls.

Superior Bakery, 4304 Lemmon, 526-3640, is the oldest retail bakery in Dallas. The founder grew up in Cajun country; consequently they make a Louisiana-style French bread which is more dense than others.

Vie de France, Collin Creek Mall, Piano, 424-9509, and 13350 Dallas Parkway, suite 3375, Galleria, 661-1782, makes four kinds of French bread.

JEWISH

Many Jewish breads are tied to religious ceremonies; challah (egg bread with a braided top) is traditionally eaten on the Sabbath. On Friday evenings, Jewish households set their tables with candles and two loaves of bread, one of which is challah.

For holidays, the bread is made in a round loaf, symbolizing a crown. Usually, challah is a standard-size loaf, but for special occasions such as bar mitzvahs, the bread can be made as long as 6 feet.

Bagel Emporium, 7522 Campbell Road, 980-1444, has one of the most extensive selections of Jewish breads, from the bagel (nothing factually indicates that this tough little roll is actually Jewish) to the bialy. A bolitzer (Jewish “bullet” bread) looks like a bun for a hero sandwich. Pletzels look like small pizzas with onion and poppy seeds on top. Onion sticks resemble bread sticks and are also available in cinnamon-raisin, salt and garlic flavors. Bialys are the color of an English muffin and have a dab of onion in the center. Emporium owner Dennis Klein says that some bakeries try to make bialys out of bagel dough, but they are two different products. In fact, he says, in New York the two were made in separate bakeries for years, partly because of union agreements, partly because they are two different things.

Bagelstein’s, 8104 Spring Valley, 234-3787, makes Jewish rye, challah and bagels.

Ernie’s, 4412 Lovers Lane, 368-6151, sells Russian Jewish rye and Jewish egg bread.

Preizler’s Bake Shop, 116 Preston Valley Shopping Center, 458-8896, makes Jewish rye, sourdough rye with onion or caraway seeds both in and on the bread. They also make Kaiser rolls. The name means “king”, so naturally, the rolls are shaped like crowns.

Reichman’s Kosher Meat and Deli, 215 Preston Royal Shopping Center, 368-2847, sells challah, rye and pumpernickel.

GERMAN

Anyone who has ever had a deli sandwich served on slices of fresh rye or pumpernickel bread can appreciate German breads. Several French and Jewish bakeries also sell rye bread. You’ll find light, medium and dark rye, which merely refers to the color. Some German breads have seeds (usually caraway).

Black Forest Bakery, 5819 Blackwell, 368-4490, has a light and a sourdough rye. Its pumpernickel bread is referred to as dark rye.

Kuby’s Sausage House, 6601 Snider Plaza, 363-2231, sells a light, seedless German rye, which is what is used in Kuby’s restaurant. Also available are Canadian rye (which is close to German rye and is also light), a whole-kernel wheat, rye and pumpernickel bread.

Michel’s Import Foods, 15000 Quorum Drive, Dallas Parkway at Belt Line, 239-4560, carries German hunter-style Jagdschnitien bread made with a coarse rye flour and whole wheat, which produces an extremely coarse grain. Bavarian rye is light without seeds. Pumpernickel is available in both Danish (brown) and German (black).

ITALIAN

DiPalma, 1520 Greenville, 824-4500, sells Italian bread daily, but its specialty breads are made only occasionally or by special order. Tuscan bread is a dark, heavy bread, eaten without butter before a meal. Olive-oil bread is a Bolognese-style bread served with antipasto. It’s very rich and flavorful, which is why it is usually not eaten with pasta. Italian hearth bread gets its name from the oven in which it’s baked and is available round, braided, in a long loaf or topped with sesame seeds. This is a basic bread, eaten with pasta and the main course.

North Dallas Bakery, 135 Preston Valley Shopping Center, 661-3399, specializes in making Italian bread and offers it in several size loaves. The bakery also makes medium rye, challah and French breads. One of its out-of-the-ordinary breads is Indian squaw bread, which is dark and contains brown sugar.

Pasta Plus, 225 Preston Royal Shopping Center, 373-3999, sells both round and loaf-style Italian. It also offers dino rolls, which are ideal for two persons.

GREEK

Greek breads aren’t readily available commercially. According to the people at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the breads are usually made at home.

During Easter and Christmas, Irene Ayoub of Michel’s Import Foods, plans to make and sell the Greek holiday breads. She is trying to locate a source for Greek breads on a regular basis.

Sharma’s International, 219 Preston Valley Shopping Center, 233-8008, sells Mediterranean pita bread. This is not pita (pocket) bread; instead of stuffing it for a sandwich, the filling is placed in the center and rolled inside the bread. It is used for souvlaki, gyro sandwiches -even pizza. The slightly chewy bread is also the equivalent of the Indian bread, naan. It is sold frozen.

ARABIC

Al’s Food Store, 8209 Park Lane at Greenville, 363-3778, Antone’s Import Co., 4234 Harry Hines, 528-5291 and 9100 N. Central Expwy. in Caruth Plaza, 369-6982, and Bagel Emporium all sell pita bread. Only Bagel Emporium makes it on the premises.

CZECH

Olde World Bakery, 5224 Gus Thom-asson Road, 681-4839, makes Czech ko-laches filled with cream, peaches, apples, blueberries, apricots, cherries or cream cheese. Buchty is the kolache dough shaped into coffee rings and filled with fruit or poppy seeds. Klobasnicky are sausage rolls: soft bread dough wrapped around a Czech sausage link.

FILIPINO

Little Home Bakery, 2109 W. Parker at Custer, Plano, 596-3382. The Phillipines were colonized by the Spanish for almost 500 years; the Spanish influence is strongly felt there. The most popular bread here, ensaymada, is an interesting combination of bits of cheese and ham wrapped inside a sweet pastry dough topped with sugar, butter and Parmesan. “It’s got sweetness and saltiness,” says J.D. Belmonte, one of the owners. It’s served in the morning – “It’s great with eggs,” he says -and as a snack.

Pan de sal is a salt-rising, hard, crusty roll that is wrapped in bread crumbs. It, too, is served in the morning with butter.

INDIAN

Antone’s has Indian flatbread, which are small, crisp rounds.

Sharma’s International sells roti, which looks like whole-wheat tortillas. This thin bread is served buttered and is torn into pieces and used to dip into curry. It is also served buttered. Roti is sold frozen here. They also sell the flour used in making four kinds of Indian bread.

IRANIAN

Antone’s also offers three Iranian breads. Barbary bread is almost 2 feet long and is made up of six very long sticks. It is eaten toasted and buttered or for sandwiches or as a pizza crust. It’s also available in smaller, submarine-type loaves.

Tonir lavash is baked in special tonir clay ovens (although not at Antone’s). Wrap this bread around meat or cheese for a sandwich. Shirmal is a country breakfast bread that is sweet and is served toasted and buttered. All are sold frozen.

IRISH

Wee Irish Bakery, 530 E. Wheatland Road, 298-8870, makes Irish home-style bread (a sweet, white, slow-rising yeast bread). It is available sliced, unsliced or as dinner rolls. Available by special order, Wee Irish makes Irish potato bread and Irish soda bread.

SCANDINAVIAN/SYRIAN-LEBANESE

Michel’s Import Foods sells Swedish pain croquant, a crisp, dark rye bread that is shaped into a 12-inch circle. It also offers Norwegian flatbread, a whole-grain cracker-type bread. This store also carries Lebanese “paper bread,” a large bread that is almost triangular. It can be opened and filled for sandwiches.

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